Interview: Trish Stratus, Cody Hackman and Allan Ungar on Gridlocked

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The action-packed film Gridlocked recently had its Canadian premier at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The film follows a former SWAT leader, David Hendrix (Dominic Purcell), and a Hollywood actor, Brody Walker (Cody Hackman), as they, and a few select SWAT members, find themselves fighting off mercenaries intent on entering their facility and stealing a valuable item hidden beneath it. Featuring a star-studded cast and enough bullets to satisfy even the most staunch action fan, Gridlocked is a crowd-pleasing homage to genre films like Lethal Weapon and The Hard Way which were prevalent in the 90’s. Prior to the screening, I had a chance to speak briefly to stars Trish Stratus and Cody Hackman and director Allan Ungar about 90’s action movies, working with Danny Glover and Dominic Purcell, and making commercially viable films in Canada.

Cinema Axis: What does it feel like to have the Canadian premiere of your Hollywood-looking, but homegrown, film in Toronto?

Trish Stratus: Allan and I just finished saying moments ago that this is where it is at!

Allan Ungar: This is where it is at! This is our home, this is our backyard. We wanted people locally to come out and see what we were able to pull off. We’re super proud of it and wanted Trish’s fans, our fans, locally to see it.

Stratus: I had the same feeling when I had my [WWE] retirement match in front of the fans at the Air Canada Centre. There is nothing like that feeling. It’s awesome!

We are in an age when a lot of action films are special effects driven. You brought us an old-school shoot ‘em up that is a lot of fun. What propelled you as a writer-director to come up with this concept?

Ungar: I grew up watching these kinds of movies. I loved the Die Hards, Assault on Precinct 13, so I think I was really motivated to ground the movie in reality. We’ll call it “reality,” suspension of disbelief aside. We went really practical, we didn’t do any CG, we had a couple of things that were enhanced here and there, but we just wanted that adrenaline shot of old-school nostalgia.

One of the things that surprised me about Gridlocked was that it does not feel like a Canadian independent movie. It has got the, if I can use the term “gloss,” of a Hollywood production. Was that something you guys paid a lot of attention to while filming?

Cody Hackman: We just spent the money in the right places, man. We really try to make the movies look as big as they can, and to give it that Hollywood gloss. We are purposely making action movies. It is one of the highest selling genres. We are not trying to get in over our heads doing some comedy, it’s tough, or doing some dramas. When I am forty, I will start producing that type of material.

Let’s touch on the comedic aspect for a moment. Cody, even though you have a martial arts background, you spend a good portion of the film as the comic relief. Aside from showcasing your range, is comedy something that you might branch out into acting wise?

Hackman: The funny thing is I don’t think I’m funny. I think a lot of it was the chemistry Dominic [Purcell] and I had. I was pranking him the whole shoot. Just teasing each other and shit, it really came across onscreen. Now we are really good friends, but during the shoot I was not sure how he felt about me. I was just trying to piss him off the whole time. [laughs]

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In a lot of those 90’s action films the female characters were usually the love interest or the love interest who becomes the damsel in distress. However, in this film, Gina is neither of those…

Stratus: Right

It was actually quite refreshing to see. As an actor, what is like getting the opportunity to play such a strong character? What do you feel that you brought extra to the role?

Stratus: Coming into this new world [of acting] and then taking what I do best, which is fight, and translate it to a different medium, is a challenge for me. It is a different dynamic because when I meet with the fight coordinators I know a certain way of fighting and they know a certain way. So it was kind of fun to bring that together to see what we could produce. Allan, I feel like, took a chance on me. This is only my second movie.

Ungar: This is her second movie, and she looks like she’s been doing it for a decade. She kicked so much ass in it. At first I was like Trish…this could go one of two ways. But you know what, she killed it, man. People love her in it. Her fight scenes are awesome. She literally pulled no punches. Literally. She had…well I am not going to spoil the movie…but [while filming] she hit someone in the face a few times more than she should have.

I read in The Hollywood Reporter that Cuba Gooding, Jr. was originally supposed to be in the Dominic Purcell role. I cannot even picture that now because the chemistry between David and Brody is so smooth.

Hackman: Here’s the thing, I can’t picture anybody playing Dominic’s role. Seriously. Dominic played it so well that I can’t picture Bruce Willis doing it. Our first choice was Cuba, that’s a director’s choice, and stuff happened. Personal issues and stuff… Dominic stepped in and killed it. He put his heart into it and killed the role.

Allan and Trish, this is second film for both of you…

Ungar: Hey, that’s right! [high five’s Stratus]

When you look at the cast, it is wall-to-wall Hollywood talent. Did you find that intimidating? Was it thrilling?

Stratus: Okay, don’t tell anybody, but Al and I had moments where we would just look at each other and went “wow, is this happening?”

Ungar: Danny Glover is sleeping on the couch and he’s telling me stories. I’m like, this is kind of cool…

Stratus: Or how about the fact that we are making a Lethal Weapon-esque film and Danny Glover is there. So it was pretty awesome.

Ungar: You kind of have to tap yourself on the knee, to sort of remind yourself, that this is real. This is happening. It’s intimidating but you just let them do their thing. They’re pros; they have been doing this longer than I have been alive.

Stratus: I would say, for me personally, that it makes you step up your game. I know in the wrestling world, when you work with someone more experienced, it just means that “I got to hang with them.” So it made me step up my game.

Ungar: It makes you want to work harder and impress them as well. But also, make them happy with the overall product.

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Cody, you are an actor that also has his own production company. A company that helped to get this film made. You don’t see that often with a lot of young Canadian actors. Can you tell me a little about Hackybox Pictures and what you hope to achieve with the company?

Hackman: I moved out to Los Angeles about seven years ago and I was just really fortunate to meet good people. It is a lot of networking, but you meet the right people. I really got to see how movies are made in LA, in that cinematic look. I think that is what Canada is lacking a bit. There’s a lot of artsy movies, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is okay to entertain people. It is okay to make movies that make money. I think that is what inspired me [to form Hackybox Pictures]; the Canadian tax incentives are so good here. I came back with some producers from LA and I met Allan. Our first movie was Tapped Out which was a highly commercial Karate Kid type of movie. We just worked so well together. Allan, I guess, wrote the Brody character for me while we were shooting Tapped Out. When something is working you keep on going. We are going to keep on making commercial movies in Canada that sell.

What is next for Hackybox Pictures?

Hackman: Allan and I have a whole cell terrorism movie we’re doing. It is going to be great. It is the appropriate time to do this movie. With Gridlocked I heard that there was no other Canadian film [in history] that shot as many bullets as we did in a single movie. So we have to top it in the next movie. [laughs]